After a hotly contested first quarter, the Orlando Magic blitzed the Atlanta Hawks with a backbreaking 17-0 run in the second quarter and continued piling on from there, leading by as many as 46 points in a 114-71 rout to seize a 1-0 lead their Eastern Conference Semifinals series. Dwight Howard, who could not escape foul trouble in the Magic's previous series, erupted for 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 5 blocked shots in a dominant performance, as the Magic pounded the ball to him inside on each possession and forced the Hawks' defense to react. And despite Al Horford's best efforts to take away his baseline spin move, Howard scored almost at will anyway. Howard also recognized the Hawks' double-teams from the top side and kicked the ball out to the open man, and Orlando's ball movement put pressure on Atlanta to rotate and recover, which it simply couldn't do. Jameer Nelson scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting to continue his strong play from the first round, driving aggressively into the Hawks' defense to either score or kick the ball out. And Vince Carter scored 20 for Orlando, shaking off a 2-of-10 start to make 5 of his final 6 shots. As has been the case all season, the Hawks struggled mightily to score in the half-court against the Magic's defense. Atlanta's Josh Smith scored 12 of his team-high 14 points in transition, showing how dangerous he can be in the open floor. But therein lies the problem: the Hawks just didn't create enough opportunities for Smith to flourish, and as a result, go-to wing scorers Joe Johnson (10 points, 4-of-11 shooting, 5 turnovers) and Jamal Crawford (5 points, 1-of-11 shooting, 3 turnovers) mucked up the Hawks' offense with ill-advised, one-on-one play.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
For Orlando, it's hard to imagine a better start to the second round. It proved that the 8-day break between games didn't matter, and that it still owns considerable advantages on the Hawks. The Magic asserted themselves, and after that 17-0 run which gave them a 44-27 lead, there was no doubt that they would go on to win the game, based on the way the Hawks were playing. No reliable half-court offense, and no one player who (or scheme that) can take Howard out of his comfort zone on offense. This game turned into such a clinic that ESPN's John Hollinger quipped, "I'm not saying this is a blowout, but updated NBA schedule has ' * - if necessary' next to Games 3 and 4."
And if you're the Magic, it's hard to find a negative in this game. Really, the team executed about as well as it could have during the game's competitive portions; garbage time turned a bit sloppy, with both Mo Evans and Mario West throwing down uncontested dunks, and Jeff Teague draining a three-pointer with about 15 feet between him and the nearest Magic defender. But the Magic, for the first 36 minutes or so of this game, ran their offense to perfection. Everything was inside-out, via a Howard post-up or a dribble-drive. After that, a shot went up or the ball went back out, then moved side-to-side until an open look presented itself. They executed Stan Van Gundy's gameplan to a T, which is why studio analyst Kenny Smith's complaint that Howard had only 14 points at halftime confused me. Smith contended that Howard should have had 25.
Orlando has to know that the Hawks can scarcely play much worse, however, and can't count on winning by 43 every night. 15 to 20 points might be more reasonable. I expect the opposite of that dynamic to play out in the Hawks' locker room, with players likely playing the "it's only one game" card. Coach Mike Woodson appears to be at a loss. When asked about how his team fell apart after the first quarter, he replied, "I wish I knew. Your guess is as good as mine."
What can Atlanta do differently on offense? Move the ball, for starters. The media have made much of the Hawks' tendency to play one-on-one, which has hurt them at key times this year, most recently in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, in which they squandered a late lead on their home floor due to their offense turning into a one-on-one demonstration. With isolation specialists like Johnson and Crawford taking many of the shots in half-court situations, we should expect an abnormally high level of one-on-one play. But to this degree? No. Woodson is bound to have something in his playbook that calls for off-ball movement, or ball movement of any kind. Al Horford told The Human Highlight Blog before the game that making Orlando's defenders move was part of the gameplan. If that's true--and there's no reason to believe otherwise--the Hawks failed miserably to execute it.
For an idea of the extent to which Orlando dominated this game, consider the fact that it outscored the Hawks, 60-21, over the middle two periods. Also, the Magic had the aforementioned 17-0 run in the second quarter in addition to a 16-0 run over the final 5:43 of the third.
For the fourth time in five games against Atlanta, the Magic limited the Hawks--the league's second-most efficient offensive team during the regular season--below their season average in all four factors. And that's another indication of the problems Orlando presents to a Hawks team that is, on the whole, far better than it appears to be when it takes the court to face Orlando.
The Magic's bench accounted for 12 of the team's 17 points in that spurt, with Howard scoring the other 5.